Keeping Ohio Students Present, Engaged and Supported

As schools begin this fall, educators across Ohio are rightly concerned about student attendance and engagement as the foundation for learning.

From 2020-2021 to 2021-2022, the statewide rate of students missing at least 10% of their instructional time due to absences increased by six percentage points to 30.2%. Chronic absenteeism has risen across nearly all grade levels, district types and student subgroups. In 2021-2022, the largest increases were in kindergarten and 12th grade. Students with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged families also experienced substantially higher chronic absence rates.

Chronic absence is one of the key early warning indicators that schools and districts should track and monitor over the course of a school year to identify students, student groups and schools in need of intervention and support. Left unaddressed, chronic absence can translate into students having difficulty learning to read by the third grade, achieving in middle school and graduating from high school. 

Ohio has deep commitment to taking a preventative approach to attendance as exemplified by the passage of House Bill 410 in 2016 and additional measures included in the 2019 state budget. This commitment is further highlighted through the Stay in the Game! Network, Ohio’s partnership with the Cleveland Browns Foundation and Harvard Proving Ground, to address chronic absenteeism in Ohio. While these have been critical improvements, the scale of the current attendance crisis means that schools, districts, and their community partners must expand their focus on prevention and early intervention.   Addressing such high levels of chronic absence requires moving beyond a focus on individual absence intervention plans for habitually truant students to investing in a more comprehensive tiered approach that starts with robust investments in positive conditions of learning and universal attendance supports.

Here are four key steps for schools and districts to consider:

  1. Take a team approach to attendance and engagement (at both the district and school level)
  2. Recognize that students are more likely to attend when positive conditions for learning are in place
  3. Use a multi-tiered approach to support student attendance and engagement using attendance, behavior and academic data
  4. Work with partners to provide additional support for students and families

 

1. Take a team approach to attendance and engagement.

If a school district has a chronic absence rate above 5%, it means there are dozens or hundreds of students who are at risk of falling behind academically. Addressing high levels of chronic absence requires a team approach. Schools and districts may want to consider establishing attendance teams to address all absences (excused, unexcused and suspensions). Team functions include:

  • Organize a multi-tiered attendance strategy that begins with prevention and early intervention using attendance, behavior and academic data.  
  • Examine attendance and absenteeism data to assess which groups of students have higher or lower levels of absence. 
  • Identify assets, barriers and strategies that affect attendance.
  • Mobilize everyone in the school community to address attendance.
  • Determine if activities and supports are making a difference.

These functions can be added to the Absence Intervention Teams already required by House Bill 410 for habitually truant students who are absent without excuses. Schools may also consider incorporating these attendance team functions into existing teams that address academics and/or behavior such as Multi-tied Systems of Support (MTSS) or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

Use these resources to guide the development of your teams:

  • How to Organize an Effective School Team Handout
  • How to Organize an Effective District Team Handout
  • School and District Team Self-Assessments of practice

 

2. Recognize that students are more likely to attend when positive conditions for learning are in place.

Relationships are essential to the positive conditions for learning which lead to students being engaged and attending regularly. Attendance is higher when schools:  

  • Are organized to promote students’ physical and emotional health and safety
  • Promote a sense of belonging, connection and support
  • Make learning challenging and engaging so students don’t want to miss class
  • Invest in adult and student well-being and emotional competence.

Venn diagrapm showing the importance of relationships in making positive conditions for learning

Image provided by Attendance Works

 


Building strong relationships is helpful for all families but is essential for working with children and family members who have experienced any form of trauma. The goal is to integrate attendance, engagement and belonging into existing practice.

  • Harvard’s Relationship Mapping Strategy offers an intentional process to make sure every student in the school is connected to at least one caring adult in the building.
  • Turnaround for Children has developed a relationship building toolbox that school staff can use in their everyday work. It includes the 2x10 Strategy where educators spend two minutes every day for ten consecutive school days with a student in need of extra support.

 

3. Use a multi-tiered approach to support student attendance and engagement.

Accurate, actionable, and available data on attendance and absenteeism can be used to inform a multi-tiered response. If a school or district does not have ready access to chronic absence reports that show which schools, student groups and individual students are chronically absent, they can download the Attendance Works District and School Attendance Tracking Tools free of charge.

The idea behind a multi-tiered approach is that the majority of students will respond to school-wide strategies for improving attendance and engagement (known as Tier 1 supports) but that these strategies won’t be sufficient for all students. Some students require more personalized support (Tier 2) and an even smaller number may need more intensive measures (Tier 3) to reengage them with school. Schools and districts may also want to consider how their tiered approach to attendance is aligned with or integrated into existing teams such as PBIS and MTSS.

The key to successful intervention strategies lies in how well the interventions address the root causes of absences. Do the interventions remove barriers or motivate a family or student to change behaviors? Use the Reasons for Absence chart and the Guide to the Attendance Playbook to select effective interventions.

Tier 1 Universal Prevention

Strategies aimed at encouraging better attendance for all students and at preventing absenteeism before it affects achievement. Strategy examples include:

  • Connection to a caring adult in the school such as a mentor.
  • Personalized outreach and communication to families and students. Ohio partners with the Cleveland Browns Foundation and Harvard Proving Ground in the Stay in the Game! Network which provides schools and districts with tools and supports to encourage attendance.
  • Recognition of good and improved attendance.
  • Messaging about the benefits of attendance for the whole child – Attendance Works has developed the Showing Up Matters for R.E.A.L. Toolkit which is filled with free, ready-to-use messaging resources for families and students.

Tier 2 Early Intervention

Personalized supports for students who missed between 10–20 percent of school during the last school year as well as those who miss 10–20 percent of school during the current school year. Research-based strategies for supporting these students include:

  • Mentoring: Mentoring is a proven strategy for reducing absenteeism. The National Mentoring Partnership, in collaboration with partners, has released the Virtual Mentoring Portal. This free tool provides safe and monitored mentoring platforms for mentors and mentees to continue their relationships while they may be separated due to COVID-19. 
  • Expanded learning programs: Schools can help students by making sure they enroll and participate in an expanded learning program—which, research shows, significantly improves attendance during the school day, especially for English language learners. Ohio offers the Afterschool Child Enrichment Educational Savings Account Program to help provide eligible families with educational opportunities.
  • Mental health: Many LEAs anticipate the need for greater levels of mental health supports given the stress and impacts on students and families since school closure. Kaiser Permanente’s Planning for the Next Normal at School playbook offer ideas to expand services. Schools and districts can utilize Student Wellness and Success Funds to increase mental health supports.
  • Student success plans: Schools should create opportunities to partner with students and families to craft plans that outline what engages the student in learning, addresses barriers to getting to class, builds upon family strengths and supports ongoing monitoring of attendance data. Ensuring students and families have a voice in crafting plans is critical to tailoring solutions to their realities and nurturing ownership.

Tier 3 Intensive Intervention

Tier 3 supports may be needed to improve outcomes for students who were severely chronically absent (missing 20 percent or more of school) in the prior school year, for those who did not show up during the first few weeks of school, or for those experiencing homelessness. Schools and districts often collaborate with agencies that might have current or past contact with a family and secure the resources of community partners to address identified gaps. Ideally, support would begin as soon as possible to ensure the year starts on a positive note. Examples include:

  • Interagency case management: Students involved in the child welfare or juvenile justice system can attain their educational goals with the support of a team of champions working across schools, families, and public agencies. For example, the National Center for Youth Law’s Compassionate Systems Framework provides a research-based model for agency collaboration and coordination to ensure that all young people involved in state systems are supported to attain their educational goals. 
  • Housing stability supports: Nearly 21,000 students were identified as being homeless in Ohio during the 2020-2021 school year. These students may need help with transportation or wrap-around services to attend school. Schools and districts can use ESSER and ARP funds to help provide supports for students experiencing homelessness, whether they have lost their primary nighttime residence, are living in a motel, shelter or campsite or are doubled up with another family. Supports can also be found from the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.

Here are additional examples of tiered interventions.
 

4. Work with partners to provide additional support for students and families.

Addressing high levels of chronic absence requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. Community partners can be the extra set of hands to support school staff that have been stretched thin during the pandemic. Examples include:

  • Expanded Learning providers that provide another set of caring adults as well as engaging enrichment activities that stimulate excitement in learning.
  • Business Leaders who can help provide meaningful work opportunities during non-school hours as well as funding for supports most needed by students and families and attendance recognition resources.

For ideas on other community partners, click this link

Consider including community partners in your attendance team while still protecting student privacy.

If you need help identifying community partners, use United Way’s 211 system. To expand the number of partners who can help with specific services such as temporary housing, food or medical care, use FindHelp.org. There is also a list of resources under Ohio’s Whole Child Framework.

Last Modified: 11/17/2022 2:36:33 PM